Multiple Hydropower Projects on the Chenab River Ring Alarm Bells

Environmental News from India: 

  • Chenab is an important river in India’s Jammu and Kashmir region and currently has over 12 hydropower projects either commissioned or under construction.
  • Environmentalists and experts in the region also warn that the unchecked growth of such projects may lead to disasters such as earthquakes.
  • Many of these dams are located either on or near fault lines. Water can percolate into the fissures, triggering earthquakes.

More than half a dozen hydropower projects are under various stages of development on the Chenab river in the Kashmir of India, even though there have been repeated warnings from environmentalists, geologists, and other experts about the dangers of unchecked growth of such projects.

The Chenab river originates in Baralacha pass in Himachal Pradesh and flows through Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban, Reasi and Akhnoor districts in Jammu and Kashmir in India, for over 500 kilometres, before flowing to Pakistan. In Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir together, more than two dozen hydropower projects have been planned on the river and its tributaries.

One such place is Chenab Valley in Kashmir, which is an active seismic zone and has a history of earthquakes. On May 1, 2013, an earthquake of magnitude 5.8 on the Richter scale hit the Chenab Valley resulting in two deaths and injuring 69 people. Subsequently, the seismic activity continued in the valley throughout 2013, prompting teams of seismologists to study the area.

G.M. Bhat, a geologist at Jammu University, who has been conducting research on earthquakes in the region, warns against the unchecked development of such dams. “Earthquakes and cloudbursts have been more frequent in Chenab Valley over the past few years, and if they happen close to lakes or dam sites, the combined volume of water will wash away the downstream habitation,” Bhat told Mongabay-India.

“Chenab Valley is located in seismic zone 4, which is extremely vulnerable to powerful earthquakes and occurs regularly … The government should construct small hydroelectric projects with tiny reservoirs, the water of which can be easily controlled, rather than creating big dams,” he emphasised.

According to a 2018 study by seismologists from the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bengaluru, Karnataka, an earthquake of a magnitude 8.5 or greater, on the Richter scale, is overdue in the central Himalayas covering parts of India and eastern Nepal.

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Source: Mongabay

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